Cambrian: Opinion

Grand jury has a big job, and my sister’s helping to do it

Dianne Brooke
Dianne Brooke

You know, I’ve been really proud of my little sister for a lot of things. She’s driven me crazy as often as not, but, more often, I am proud of her. She lives in Grover Beach and is a newly appointed member of the San Luis Obispo County grand jury. I had no idea what was involved other than it was right up her alley after working for Superior Court for almost 20 years. We both initially thought it was going to be about guns and robberies and assault and such … but it is not.

The grand jury, which is sworn in by Superior Court, is a branch of county government and is paid from those coffers. The concept of a grand jury has been around since the 1100s and is mandated in the California constitution. What exactly does it do? It is a citizens watchdog group that makes sure government entities are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. It is your ally.

“We meet for four hours every Tuesday and Thursday and get paid $15 an hour… we are not exactly in it for the money! We also get a little extra when we go out in the field, but, seriously, there are so many more hours put into it, investigating things, researching, double-checking facts, writing everything up for our reports. … Yeah, it’s a lot of work! But, it is entirely worth it!” she told me.

Every public entity meets with them (its jurisdiction is over county offices, special districts and any city within the county including California Valley, Creston, Cambria, SLO, Nipomo, etc.) and it is also mandated to do inspections of CMC — kitchen, cells, talk with prisoners, employees, etc. — County Jail, Juvenile Hall, holding cells and the psychiatric health facility (not Atascadero State Hospital, which is run by the state).

If the grand jury has questions or concerns, reports are produced, the Superior Court presiding judge reviews them and they are issued to the challenged entity to be responded to and then corrected. It is extremely confidential until that point, but all final reports can be viewed on the grand jury site: http://bit.ly/2ykGg0r.

I found that site rather interesting and informative!

“Oh, my gosh, this has been an amazing civics lesson! You really learn what every office of government is supposed to do and how they work together … or not!” my sister shared. Under the report “How Long Will the Need Go Unfulfilled? Residential Detoxification in San Luis Obispo County,” you can find out things like, “For each dollar invested in substance-abuse treatment, there is a ten-fold savings in health care and criminal justice costs. Comprehensive addiction services, encompassing a full continuum of care, are critical for reaching those in greatest need.”

Like I said, they are on your side. Really, you should check out their reports for some “light reading.” Extremely comprehensive.

There are a required 19 members of the grand jury. Currently there are no alternates, so that could prove difficult. But, my sister feels it is a particularly strong group.

“I am so impressed with the caliber of people — retired nurses, firefighters, teachers and more,” she said. “They are bright, passionate and dedicated to the job of making sure our local government is on the up and up.”

Not only does the group attend its own meetings and do investigations in the field but members take turns going to the county Board of Supervisors meetings, and they attend their own local city/district meetings. They are there (with GJ badges on) to merely listen and to be available. Terms of service are one year, although members can apply for a second year. Then, they must take a least a year off before applying again.

I asked my sister what the most difficult part of the job is.

“Having to agree with 18 other people! But, seriously, it is a really good group and I have no problem speaking my mind and voicing my thoughts and concerns and, I’m willing to listen and learn because this group has much to share.”

That is the kind of person we need in charge of anything!

There are citizen complaint forms on the SLO Courts website listed above or one may email them at the address listed thereon. They do get emails from prisoners and folks who are consistent writers, and then there are those who supply well-written, well-supported cases, and it is the jury’s job to determine what request or concern will have the greatest impact on the most people in the county. Sometimes, that can be a tough call. Other times it is pretty cut and dry.

So, if you have ever considered how you can make a difference in your local government, open doors to finding out truths around you and positively impact your friends and neighbors, a seat on the grand jury may be right for you. They run the fiscal year and do a whole heck of a lot within that year.

My sister also started a Facebook page for the grand jury. It may help put a little more human face on it (although it’s her daughter’s dog’s face at the top, hahahahaha): http://bit.ly/2wBVjk6. Thanks, sis, for doing such an important job and doing it with great integrity!

Dianne Brooke’s column appears weekly and is special to The Cambrian. Visit her website at www.ladytiedi.com. Email her at ltd@ladytiedi.com.

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